One of the classes I had been enrolled in this semester was titled “Native American Women: Walking in Two Worlds” and it was a really great class, I enjoyed it very much. I learned a lot about the history of American Indian tribes, all of which is extremely relevant to this day. One of my favorite readings from this class was "Sexuality and Gender in Certain Native American Tribes: The Case of Cross-Gender Females" by Evelyn Blackwood.
Quick note: American Indian societies have traditionally been matriarchal and gender roles where divided where women did tasks such as farming and gathering while men hunted. These roles where seen as equally important but Blackwood shows us that gender roles where more complex and incorporated cross-gender people. Some of the terms used in the article may seem problematic (Blackwood even says the term “third gender” is more appropriate than cross-gender, which implies crossing a gender boundary), but keep in mind that the traditional American Indian gender system and the Western gender system are different and what is applicable to one system may not apply to the other.
I strongly suggest reading the article since I find it very fascinating and interesting to read about a gender system much different than the one socially accepted by the majority of Western society, but here are some highlights that I personally found:
- "Among the Alaskan Ingalik, the kashim was the center of men’s activities and the place for male-only sweat baths. The cross-gender female participated in the activities of the kashim, and the men were said not to perceive her true sex."
- [Talking about gender-assigned tasks] “Some Klamath women made canoes, usually a man’s task, and older men helped women with food preparation. In the Colorado River area, both men and women collected tule pollen. Engaging in such activities did not make a woman masculine or a man feminine because, although distinct spheres of male and female production existed, a wide range of tasks was acceptable for both sexes. Because there was no need to maintain gender inequalities, notions of power and prestige did not circumscribe the roles. Without strict gender definitions, it was then possible for some Native American women to take up the male role permanently without threatening the gender system.”
- "…Individuals possessed a gender identity, but not a corresponding sexual identity, and thus were allowed several sexual options. Sexuality itself was not embedded in Native American gender ideology."
- "That men simply accepted females as warriors and were not threatened by such behavior contradicts the notion that such women were even temporarily assuming the male role. The men’s acceptance was based on recognition of the women warriors’ capabilities as women."
- "The dominant ideology of Western culture, with its belief in the inferior nature of the female role and its insistence on heterosexuality, began to replace traditional Native American gender systems."